Nov 6, 2018

Axios Login

By Ina Fried
Ina Fried

Vote. Seriously. That's how this democracy thing works.

1 big thing: Today's internet is by land, sea, air and space

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

The internet is an invisible mesh that enables instantaneous global communications, but delivering all those bits quickly to more people in more places requires increasingly exotic approaches.

That latest viral video might start out in an underwater data center before traveling to a satellite, undersea cable or balloon — then hopping wirelessly to reach your phone.

Why it matters: Today's bandwidth needs require either a long physical connection or a lot of creativity. Bringing the internet to still-unconnected locations typically requires a lot of the latter, forcing tech companies to think in new ways about where to place wires, cables and servers.

How it works: Here are a few things you may not realize about how communication pipes work around the world...

1. Hundreds of thousands of cables are buried underwater. These cables, which run along the ocean floor, carry the vast majority of all transoceanic digital communications.

  • They've been laid over decades and many connect the East Coast of the U.S. to western Europe and western China to parts of Southeast Asia and territories in the Pacific.
  • National security experts fear that the cables, which can be difficult to physically monitor, could be vulnerable to tampering by Russia or other states.

2. The cloud is increasingly being moved underwater. Data centers require cheap cooling and power, and it turns out the ocean provides both. The waves provide the energy while the water provides the cooling.

  • Microsoft has been working on this approach for a while, more aggressively of late. It built its first underwater data server, called Project Natick, in 2016.
  • Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella says that underwater server farms are now a key part of the company's plans for future data centers, per Ars Technica.

3. "Wireless" technologies actually use a ton of wires. Yes, the signals are sent through the air from base stations to phones, tablets and other devices.

  • But at some point, the antennas have to connect back to dense fiber networks in the ground that link to the internet's backbone.

4. Space has become the new frontier for wireless signals. Today, satellites are often the last resort for delivering internet and phone calls. They help close the gap in uncovered areas, but are typically costly and slow.

  • But cheaper rocket launches and better technology may make satellites a more viable option for delivering fast, affordable consumer broadband services around the world, per Axios' Kim Hart.
  • A number of companies, from SpaceX to ViaSat, are launching satellites that orbit closer to the earth, which is expected to reduce the lag time — or latency — of internet data, since the signal will not have to travel as far.

5. Alphabet has been testing balloons for remote area connectivity. It's been using high atmosphere balloons to help bring connectivity in remote areas via Project Loon.

  • Last year it used the same approach to help bring temporary service to hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico.

The bottom line: Your first concern might not be where your data is stored or how it gets to you, as long as it does so quickly, securely and inexpensively. But the engineers responsible for keeping us all online are constantly coming up with eye-opening new ideas to make that happen.

2. Amazon reportedly going with two HQ2s

For more than a year, cities across the U.S. and Canada have been wooing Amazon in hopes of becoming the company's second headquarters and securing 50,000 or more high-paying tech jobs.

Yes, but: The Wall Street Journal reported Monday that Amazon has decided to split the planned HQ2 across two cities.

Winners: While nothing has been announced yet, per the New York Times, the HQ2 cities will be the Crystal City neighborhood of Arlington, Va., and the Long Island City district in Queens, N.Y.

  • Supposedly, a decision could come in the next week.

Our thought bubble:

  • So much for bringing high tech to Middle America, assuming the Times report is correct.
  • The decision to split HQ2 in two raises questions about whether either HQ2 will really emerge as a true second headquarters.
  • Putting at least part of HQ2 near D.C. could help the company as it seeks to deflect antitrust action, which President Trump told Axios is under consideration.

What they're saying: The internet had a lot of fun with the reports of two HQ2s. Here are a few of my favorites...

  • Business Insider's Matt Weinberger: "Each sub-HQ2 will be required to pick cities for two additional HQs, which will then be required to pick two more cities each."
  • Axios' Dan Primack: "You get an HQ2. And you get an HQ2. And you get an HQ2..."
  • There was also some serious introspection, including this, from The Information's Nick Wingfield: "This should serve as a moment of reflection for everyone involved in the HQ2 hype (me included). If Amazon ends up splitting its expansion into mini HQs, that is called...opening satellite offices, which scarcely deserves the buckets of ink spilled so far."

The bottom line: We'll have to wait to see the details to learn just how good a deal this is for the "winning" communities.

3. New meddling worries on Election Day

Facebook's much-publicized "war room" to monitor possible election interference. Photo: Noah Berger/AFP/Getty Images

Fresh concerns about election interference emerged in the hours before Election Day.

  • Just 12 hours before nationwide voting began, Facebook took down 30 accounts on Facebook and another 85 on Instagram. The move followed a tip from federal law enforcement.
  • Separately, LinkedIn has emerged as a new source for hyperpartisan content. According to BuzzFeed News, Microsoft's professional social network began to serve as an alternative for some users kicked off of other social networks to share their viewpoints.

What they're saying:

  • "Typically, we would be further along with our analysis before announcing anything publicly," said Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook's head of cybersecurity policy, in a blog post. "But given that we are only one day away from important elections in the U.S., we wanted to let people know about the action we’ve taken and the facts as we know them today."
  • In a joint statement on Monday, top law enforcement and intelligence officials said, "At this time we have no indication of compromise of our nation’s election infrastructure that would prevent voting, change vote counts, or disrupt the ability to tally votes."

Meanwhile, as we reported in Login on Monday, experts are also concerned about bad actors taking credit for interference that didn't actually occur. Former Facebook security chief Alex Stamos echoed that worry yesterday:

"Americans need to strike a careful balance between being wary for election manipulation and being skeptical of unsupported claims of manipulation. Let's not do our adversaries' work for them."
— Alex Stamos
4. Scoop: AT&T's piracy crackdown

Photo: Robert Alexander/Getty Images

For the first time since acquiring Time Warner, AT&T plans to cut off service for some customers accused of repeatedly contributing to illegal content sharing.

Driving the news: As Axios' Sara Fischer and David McCabe first reported, the move affects more than a dozen customers who have each received at least 9 separate notifications of alleged infringement.

  • AT&T plans to let the customers know its plans in the next week.

Why it matters: It's the first time AT&T has discontinued customer service over piracy allegations since last year and is extra significant since AT&T just became one of America's major media companies. (It has also become a major video distributor in recent years, having acquired DirecTV and launched its own streaming video services.)

The context: A now-defunct industry Copyright Alert System used to be responsible for holding internet service providers accountable for educating customers about the risks of pirating content. After that group dissolved, the ISPs were forced to create and enforce their own policies.

Go deeper: Sara and David have more here.

5. Take Note

On Tap

  • AMD is holding a "Next Horizon" event for investors, press and analysts in San Francisco. CEO Lisa Su and other executives are expected to talk about a range of efforts, including processors and graphics chips for the data center built on the next-generation 7-nanometer wiring.
  • It's Election Day. VOTE!

Trading Places

  • Pinterest named Andréa Mallard, a former executive at Gap's Athleta unit, as its first CMO.


  • Speaking at Web Summit in Lisbon, World Wide Web inventor Tim Berners-Lee unveiled a contract to protect the future of the internet. Facebook, Google and the French government are among 60 initial signatories. (CNET)
  • Nikkei reports that Apple has scrapped plans to expand production of the iPhone XR. It's worth noting though that reports of production boosts and cuts are frequent in the months after new iPhones are introduced and have proven to be a less-than-solid indicator of how business is going. (Nikkei)
  • Speaking of Apple, the company recommitted itself to the goals of the Paris climate agreement even as the Trump administration has said it plans to pull out. (CNET)
  • An independent report commissioned by Facebook found the social network didn't do enough to "help prevent our platform from being used to foment division and incite offline violence" in Myanmar. (Facebook)
  • Pandora, which is in the process of being acquired by SiriusXM, posted strong quarterly financial results that topped expectations. (Variety)
  • VMware has acquired Heptio, a startup founded by Joe Beda and Craig McLuckie, in a move designed to help enterprises use Kubernetes-based architectures. (TechCrunch)
  • Traditional sports leagues look to new technologies to survive, particularly in trying to attract younger audiences. (Axios)
6. After you Login

In case you need some additional electoral inspiration.

Ina Fried